Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > American
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. I–V: American
 
How to Hunt the Fox
By Edgar Wilson (Bill) Nye (1850–1896)
 
THE JOYOUS season for hunting is again upon us, and with the gentle fall of the autumn leaf and the sough of the scented breezes about the gnarled and naked limbs of the wailing trees, the huntsman comes with his hark and his halloo and hurrah, boys, the swift rush of the chase, the thrilling scamper ’cross country, the mad dash through the Long Islander’s pumpkin patch; also the mad dash, dash, dash of the farmer, the low moan of the disabled and frozen-toed hen as the whooping horsemen run her down; the wild shriek of the children; the low, melancholy wail of the frightened shoat as he flees away to the straw pile; the quick yet muffled plunk of the frozen tomato, and the dull scrunch of the seed cucumber.  1
  The huntsman now takes the flannels off his fox, rubs his stiffened limbs with gargling oil, ties a bunch of firecrackers to his tail, and runs him around the barn a few times to see if he is in good order.  2
  The foxhound is a cross of the bloodhound, the greyhound, the bulldog, and the chump. When you step on his tail he is said to be in full cry. The foxhound obtains from his ancestors on the bloodhound side of the house his keen scent, which enables him while in full cry ’cross country to pause and hunt for chipmunks. He also obtains from the bloodhound branch of his family a wild yearning to star in an “Uncle Tom” company, and watch little Eva meander up the flume at two dollars per week. From the greyhound he gets his most miraculous speed, which enables him to attain a rate of velocity so great that he is unable to halt during the excitement of the chase, frequently running so far during the day that it takes him a week to get back, when, of course, all interest has died out. From the bulldog the foxhound obtains his great tenacity of purpose, his deep-seated convictions, his quick perceptions, his love of home, and his clinging nature. From the chump the foxhound gets his high intellectuality, and that mental power which enables him to distinguish almost at a glance the salient points of difference between a two-year-old steer and a two-dollar bill.  3
  The foxhound is about two feet in height, and 120 of them would be considered an ample number for a quiet little fox-hunt. Some hunters think this number inadequate, but unless the fox be unusually skittish and crawl under the barn, 120 foxhounds ought to be enough. The trouble generally is that hunters make too much noise, thus scaring the fox so that he tries to get away from them. This necessitates hard riding and great activity on the part of the whippers-in. Frightening a fox almost always results in sending him out of the road, and compelling horsemen to stop in order to take down a panel of fence every little while that they may follow the animal, and before you can get the fence put up again the owner is on the ground, and after you have made change with him and mounted again the fox may be nine miles away. Try by all means to keep your fox in the road!  4
  It makes a great difference what kind of fox you use, however. I once had a fox on my Pumpkin Butte estates that lasted me three years, and I never knew him to shy or turn out of the road for anything but a loaded team. He was the best for fox-hunting purposes that I ever had. Every spring I would sprinkle him with Scotch snuff and put him away in the bureau till fall. He would then come out bright and chipper. He was always ready to enter into the chase with all the chic and embonpoint of a regular Kenosha; and nothing pleased him better than to be about eight miles in advance of my thoroughbred pack in full cry, scampering ’cross country, while, stretching back a few miles behind the dogs, followed a pale young man and his financier, each riding a horse that had sat down too hard on its tail some time and driven it into its system about six joints.  5
  Some hunters who are madly and passionately devoted to the sport leap their horses over fences, moats, donjon keeps, hedges, and currant bushes with utter sang-froid and the wild, unfettered toot ongsomble of a brass band. It is one of the most spirited and touchful of sights to see a young fox-hunter going home through the gloaming with a full cry in one hand and his pancreas in the other.  6
  Some like to be in at the death, as it is called, and it is certainly a laudable ambition. To see 120 dogs hold out against a ferocious fox weighing nine pounds; to watch the brave little band of dogs and whippers-in and horses with sawed-off tails, making up in heroism what they lack in numbers, succeeding at last in ridding the country of the ferocious brute which has long been the acknowledged foe of the human race, is indeed a fine sight.  7
  We are too apt to regard fox-hunting merely as a relaxation, a source of pleasure, and the result of a desire to do the way people do in the novels which we steal from English authors; but this is not all. To successfully hunt a fox, to jump fences ’cross country like an unruly steer, is no child’s play. To ride all day on a very hot and restless saddle, trying to lope while your horse is trotting, giving your friends a good view of the country between yourself and your horse, then leaping stone walls, breaking your collar-bone in four places, pulling out one eye and leaving it hanging on a plum-tree, or going home at night with your transverse colon wrapped around the pommel of your saddle and your liver in an old newspaper, requires the greatest courage.  8
  Too much stress cannot be placed upon the costume worn while fox-hunting—and in fact that is, after all, the life and soul of the chase. For ladies, nothing looks better than a close-fitting jacket, sewed together with thread of the same shade, and a skirt. Neat-fitting cavalry boots and a plug hat complete the costume. Then, with a hue in one hand and a cry in the other, she is prepared to mount. Lead the horse up to a stone wall or a freight-car and spring lightly into the saddle with a glad cry. A freight-car is the best thing from which to mount a horse, but it is too unwieldy, and frequently delays the chase. For this reason too much luggage should not be carried on a fox-hunt. Some gentlemen carry a change of canes neatly concealed in a shawl-strap, but even this may be dispensed with.  9
  For gentlemen, a dark, four-button cutaway coat with neat, loose-fitting, white panties, will generally scare a fox into convulsions, so that he may be easily killed with a club. A short-waisted plug hat may be worn also, in order to distinguish the hunter from the whipper-in, who wears a baseball cap. The only fox-hunting I have ever done was on board an impetuous, tough-bitted, fore-and-aft horse that had emotional insanity. I was dressed in a swallow-tail coat, waistcoat of Scotch plaid Turkish toweling, and a pair of close-fitting breeches of etiquette tucked into my boot-tops. As I was away from home at the time and could not reach my own steed, I was obliged to mount a spirited steed with high, intellectual hips, one white eye, and a big red nostril that you could set a Shanghai hen in. This horse, as soon as the pack broke into full cry, climbed over a fence that had wrought-iron briers on it, lit in a cornfield, stabbed his hind leg through a sere and yellow pumpkin, which he wore the rest of the day with seven yards of pumpkin-vine streaming out behind, and away he dashed ’cross country.  10
  I remained mounted not because I enjoyed it—for I did not—but because I dreaded to dismount. I hated to get off in pieces. If I can’t get off a horse’s back as a whole, I would rather adhere to the horse. I will adhere that I did so.  11
  We did not see the fox, but we saw almost everything else. I remember, among other things, of riding through a hothouse, and how I enjoyed it. A morning scamper through a conservatory when the syringas and jonquils and Jack-roses lie cuddled up together in their little beds is a thing to remember and look back to and pay for. To stand knee-deep in glass and gladioli, to smell the mashed and mussed-up mignonette and the last fragrant sigh of the scrunched heliotrope beneath the hoof of your horse, while far away the deep-mouthed baying of the hoarse hounds hotly hugging the reeking trail of the aniseed bag calls on the gorgeously caparisoned hills to give back their merry music or fork it over to other answering hills, is joy to the huntsman’s heart.  12
  On, on I rode, with my unconfined locks streaming behind me in the autumn wind. On and still on I sped, the big, bright pumpkin slipping up and down the gambrel of my spirited horse at every jump. On and ever on we went, shedding terror and pumpkin-seeds along our glittering track, till my proud steed ran his leg in a gopher hole and fell over one of those machines that they put on a high-headed steer to keep him from jumping fences. As the horse fell, the necklace of this hickory poke flew up and adjusted itself around my throat. In an instant my steed was on his feet again, and gaily we went forward; while the prong of this barbarous appliance ever and anon plowed into a brand-new culvert or rooted up a clover-field. Every time it ran into an orchard or a cemetery it would jar my neck and knock me silly. But I could see with joy that it reduced the speed of my horse. At last, as the sun went down—reluctantly it seemed to me, for he knew that he would never see such riding again—my ill-spent horse fell with a hollow moan, curled up, gave a spasmodic quiver with his little, nerveless, sawed-off tail, and died.  13
  The other huntsmen succeeded in treeing the aniseed bag at sundown, in time to catch the six-o’clock train home.  14
  Fox-hunting is one of the most thrilling pastimes of which I know, and for young men whose parents have amassed large sums of money in the intellectual pursuit of hides and tallow, the meet, the chase, the scamper, the full cry, the cover, the stellated fracture, the yelp of the pack, the yip, the yell of triumph, the confusion, the whoop, the holla, the halloos, the hurrah, the abrasion, the snort of the hunter, the concussion, the sward, the open, the earth-stopper, the strangulated hernia, the glad cry of the hound as he brings home the quivering seat of the peasant’s pantaloons, the yelp of joy as he lays at his master’s feet the strawberry mark of the rustic—all, all are exhilarating to the sons of our American nobility.  15
  Fox-hunting combines the danger and the wild, tumultuous joy of the skating-rink, the toboggan-slide, the mush-and-milk sociable, and the straw ride.  16
  With a good horse, an air-cushion, a reliable earth-stopper, and an aniseed bag, a man must indeed be thoroughly blasé who cannot enjoy a scamper ’cross country, over the Pennsylvania wold, the New Jersey mere, the Connecticut moor, the Indiana glade, the Missouri brake, the Michigan mead, the American tarn, the fen, the gulch, the buffalo wallow, the cranberry marsh, the glen, the draw, the cañon, the ravine, the forks, the bottom, or the settlement.  17
  For the young American nobleman whose ducal father made his money by inventing a fluent pill, or who gained his great wealth through relieving humanity by means of a lung-pad, a liver-pad, a kidney-pad, or a footpad, fox-hunting is first-rate.  18
 
 
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